UK believes Huawei 5G risk can be mitigated, according to reports

18 February 2019 | James Pearce

Cover

Under-pressure Huawei has received some rare good news after a UK intelligence agency said it does not believe banning the Chinese vendor’s kit from 5G rollouts is necessary, according to reports.

The Financial Times is citing sources familiar with the matter who said the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has concluded it is possible to limit the risk of using Huawei’s kit in 5G networks in the country.

The UK government is reviewing whether it should follow other countries that are considering banning Huawei kit from 5G deployments, which a report set to be published over the coming months.

FT’s sources said the NCSC’s conclusion would “carry great weight” with European leaders, as the UK has access to sensitive to US intelligence through its membership of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing network.

It comes as a small reprieve for Huawei, which has come under-fire in recent months from a number of Five Eyes countries, including the US, Australia and New Zealand. These countries have already taken steps to ban Huawei and fellow Chinese vendor ZTE from 5G networks, with the US pressuring other allies to follow suit.

The US claim that Huawei’s equipment could contain vulnerabilities that could allow Chinese intelligence agencies to spy on other nations, something Huawei has strenuously denied.

The UK remains unconvinced, according to the FT’s report. A source said: “Other nations can make the argument that if the British are confident of mitigation against national security threats then they can also reassure their publics and the US administration that they are acting in a prudent manner in continuing to allow their telecommunications service providers to use Chinese components as long as they take the kinds of precautions recommended by the British.”

Huawei has been banned from selling networking equipment into the US since 2012, with US officials citing security concerns. US officials allege that hardware from Chinese vendors could provide a backdoor access for the Chinese government into US networks – something China and Huawei have both denied repeatedly.

Last month, the US Department of Justice unsealed a number of charges against Huawei, with 27 charges levelled overall (though not all were unsealed) against the firm., though these related primarily to allegedly selling equipment into Iran, breaching sanctions imposed on the Middle Eastern country.

2018 ended with the arrest in Canada of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s CFO – again over US allegations concerning Iran, which she denies. Security concerns have not featured.

The accusations are all swirling around as mobile operators, including those in the UK, are looking to deploy commercial 5G. Huawei sells 28% of the global telecoms equipment market. Research by Berlin-based intellectual property company IPlytics shows that the top 10 owners of critical 5G patents have 6,632 patents between them. Huawei, ZTE and the China Academy of Telecommunications Technology have 2,081 patents – 31% of the total.